Graduating kids circa 2019

If there’s one thing my time in China taught me, it’s that you never know what’s going to happen when you go to class that day. One day, the kids could be giggling because they understood you complain about not having time for the bathroom. 

Another time, they link an English word with a Chinese word, and they think it’s funny. 

One of my favorite moments when I teach is when a child with a Chinese name would come to class with an English name. Sure, it sounds tame, but you never know what the children consider an excellent name. 

Sure, you’ll get your basic Elsa, Anna, Eric, or Jerry. But then you’ll get a child walking into class asking you to call them Chocolate. Another kid could tell you their name is Pizza, Cheese, Orange, or Apple. 

I’ve had kids with all of these names in my classes over the years if you’re curious. So far, the strangest name I’ve had is Hot. 

I know some of you are reading some of these names and visibly cringing right now. You’re staring at the screen thinking, “These aren’t names.” One of my former coworkers would say it all the time when she heard me say I had a student named Cheese. 

And yes, you’re right. Cheese, Pizza, and Chocolate aren’t names. They’re food. Blue and Smile aren’t names either. 

Even though I’d heard these strange names all the time, I never minded them. To me, if a kid walked into my class with a strange name, it shows a willingness to explore the language and try new words in different ways. 

Some of these kids were more creative than others

Creativity doesn’t always show up in art. It can show up in science, photography, music, and language too! I saw creativity with every new class when kids learned their names. 

Think about it this way. Way back then, people didn’t name their daughters after flowers, did they? Then, one day, people started naming their daughters after flowers, and the rest of the world got into it. 

And now we have names like Lily, Rose, Iris, and Jasmine. How is naming a child Apple more unusual than any of those names? 

I’d rather say a not-name than accidentally call the child something embarrassing.

Around my last year of teaching, I had a three-year-old girl come in whose name was Ying Jing. I don’t remember the tones for her name, but I kept using the first tones. One day, I walked into my classroom and found my learning partner looking for English names. 

“Who names their child that?” she asked. 

“Who are you talking about?” I asked. 

Ying Jing in all first tones means penis. This poor girl was crying every day because she thought I was calling her names. The next class, the parents heard it too, and they asked us to find her a suitable English name. 

For the rest of my time in China, the girl’s name was Enya. She’d be about six or seven by now,  so I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s changed her English name yet. 


When a kid picks out their first English name, there’s a chance it’s going to be something ridiculous. It’s probably not going to be a name at all. 

The way I see it, I’d rather call a kid Zebra than find out I’d been accidentally calling them something horribly inappropriate. 

If you’re getting kids as young as I had them, it might be their first time in an English environment. It’s a way for them to explore this new world they’re in when they’re in your classroom.

 Why not let them explore what’s a name and what’s not? 

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Keara Hopkins

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